TENUOUS STANNIC RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD FOR FORMER CHAMPIONS

Former champions Jan Habig and Douglas Judd will have the luxury of a slender seven point lead in the series when the Stannic Rally Championship moves to the Free State and Eastern Cape for the Mountain Trial on August 13 and 14.

Reappearing on the national calendar as a stop gap event this season a chain of events, including the postponement until later in the year of the Volkswagen Rally, see the Mountain Trial now installed as round four of the Stannic National Championship. Organised by the Bloemfontein branch of the Sports Car Club, the Mountain Trial in previous years earned a fearsome reputation and Habig and Judd may yet be grateful for what is a tenuous lead at this stage of the season.

The deadlock at the top of the championship table was broken when the VW factory crew won the Sasol Rally in Mpumulanga in June. It was a win that lifted them clear of seven time drivers champion Serge Damseaux and Guy Hodgson, in the Castrol Toyota Conquest, with the championship looking more and more as though it is going to develop into a two horse race between the VW and Toyota rivals.

Where the Mountain Trial is concerned, however, Damseaux will probably be feeling a little more comfortable than Habig. The Toyota man has won the event a record five times, while Habig's best result is a second place.

KwaZulu Natal crew Etienne Lourens and Robert Paisley, in the Team Total Toyota Conquest, are a further 22 points in arrears of Damseaux/Hodgson and won't feel that they are out of the championship race just yet. Lourens and Paisley have been aided and abetted by a consistency lacking in previous seasons, and this is a commodity Sasol Motorcraft Ford Escort pair Paolo Piazza-Musso and Richard Leeke will be hoping to rediscover in the mountains around Lady Grey and Barkly East.

No one will look further than a Class A8 victory on an event that will favour sheer speed, but the Class A7 and Class A6 championship battles are delicately poised. For the crews involved in these scraps the Mountain Trial could have long term repercussions.

A win in Class A7 on the Sasol Rally - their first of the season - lifted reigning champions Tjaart van der Walt and Cindi Harding (Rieks Towing VW Golf) into a one point lead over early season pacesetters Barry Grobbelaar and Mike Burrows in the Team Total VW Golf. The category has this season developed into a highly competitive affair, and Tony Ball and Marti Olivier (Bulwer Park VW Golf) will also fancy their chances.

Only nine points separate the three crews in the championship. That is a margin that could alter dramatically in one event, and all the combatants will be well aware of that fact.

The two major protagonists in Class A6 will also be well aware of the consequences of a disappointing result on the jaunt through the mountains. Here again the margin between the frontrunners is just one point with Jean-Pierre Damseaux and Pierre Arries currently edging out reigning champions Hergen Fekken and Dave Lewkowicz.

The younger Damseaux and Arries are ahead of Fekken Lewkowicz courtesy of a class win on the Sasol - where Fekken and Lewkowicz ran into problems but managed to salvage points that could also be important when scores are totted up at the end of the year. A little intrigue is added to this battle, however, in that both crews will finally be out for the first time in Toyota Corolla RSi 20 valve machinery, with Damseaux/Arries in the Team Total car and Fekken/Lewkowicz running under the Dunair banner,

Both crews have hitherto relied on Toyota Conquests which have done them proud over the last couple of seasons. The introduction of new competition machinery, however, always carries with it a few ifs and buts and both crews will be living a little on their nervous systems.

Given the Mountain Trial's reputation there will be any number of crews living on their nervous but, like Damseaux, reigning Group N drivers champion Hannes Grobler will be feeling comfortable about the event. Grobler was twice a winner in the really hairy days of around 600 plus horsepower, and he won't be phased with the more sedate progress of the Total Bridgestone Nissan Sentra running in Class N3.

For Grobler and co-driver Nic Hadden, however, the outing is important where their Group N title hopes are concerned. The enforced sojourn in Class A7 on the Stannic Cape Rally was a bit of a damper where their Group N hopes were concerned, and the pair trail overall championship leaders Dean Sanders/Graham Hooper and Class N3 leaders Cliff Blackman and Johan Klaasen in the Team Total Nissan Sentra.

Grobler's previous Mountain Trial experience merely serves to install him and Hadden as overwhelming favourites in Class N3 and for overall Group N victory. Conditions on the rally will also tend to prompt the fundis to tip Grobler/Hadden for a possible top five finish.

Overall and Class N2 victory on the Sasol Rally, their second of the season, has given Dean Sanders and Graham Hooper (Team Total Toyota Corolla) a little breathing space in Class N2. They now lead reigning drivers champion Schalk Burger and Martin Botha (Bridgestone Quality Tyres Toyota Corolla) by a 14 point margin in what is perhaps the most competitive category in the Stannic championship.

Burger and Botha continued their return to form with a recent fourth overall on the Castrol Spectra Zambia Rally, an event counting towards the FIA African Continent Rally Championship, but the class also includes two other potential winners. Cape crew Diffie Marais and Danie de Waal (Toyota Corolla) and talented Kobus Roos/Neil Fourie in another Toyota Corolla also come into the reckoning.

Where Sanders and Roos are concerned the pair might like to call on a little outside assistance. Both have famous fathers who will remember the Mountain Trial, and when it comes to winning championships you need all the help you can get.

As is the case in Class N2 matters in Class N1 are dominated by Toyota Tazz entries. Reigning drivers champion Rodney Visagie and Carolyn Cimma currently rule the roost in the Team Total entry, with consistency a major factor in lifting Mike Houghton and Bryn Doherty into second place in the class championship.

After an adventurous outing on the Sasol - which included a roll - the Pretoria pairing of Allen Worms and Brendan Nunan, in the Team Total Opel Corsa, will want to get their challenge back on track. The pair could throw a spanner in the Toyota works with many of the younger drivers and navigators in for an interesting experience on an even that will be, if nothing else, character building.

Points positions:

Drivers (Overall): 1 J Habig 95; 2 S Damseaux 88; 3 E Lourens 66; 4 J-P Damseaux 51; 5 H Fekken 50; 6 H Grobler 48.

Co-Drivers (Overall): 1 D Judd 95; 2 G Hodgson 88; 3 R Paisley 66; 4 P Arries 51; 5 D Lewkowicz 50; 6 H Grobler 48.

Group N Drivers (Overall): 1 D Sanders 45; 2 C Blackman 32; 3 S Burger 31; 4 R Visagie 29; 5 D Marais 28.

Group N Co-Drivers (Overall): 1 G Hooper 45; 2 J Klaasen 32; 3 M Botha 31; 4 C Cimma 29; 5 D de Waal 28.

Class A8 (Drivers): 1 J Habig 95; 2 S Damseaux 88; 3 E Lourens 66.

Class A7 (Drivers): 1 T van der Walt 44; 2 B Grobbelaar 43; 3 T Ball 35.

Class A6 (Drivers): 1 J-P Damseaux 51; 2 H Fekken 50; 3 C de Wit 23.

Class N3 (Drivers): 1 C Blackman 32; 2 H Grobler 23; 3 M Wyngaard 8.

Class N2 (Drivers): 1 D Sanders 45; 2 S Burger 31; 3 D Marais 28.

Class N1 (Drivers): 1 R Visagie 29; 2 M Houghton 23; 3 A Worms 14.

Class A8 (Co-Drivers): 1 D Judd 95; 2 G Hodgson 88; 3 R Paisley 66.

Class A7 (Co-Drivers): 1 C Harding 44; 2 M Burrows 43; 3 M Olivier 35.

Class A6 (Co-Drivers): 1 P Arries 51; 2 D Lewkowicz 50; 3 A Harris 23.

Class N3 (Co-Drivers): 1 J Klaasen 32; 2 N Hadden 23; 3 R Wyngaard 8.

Class N2 (Co-Drivers): 1 G Hooper 45; 2 M Botha 31; 3 D de Waal 28.

Class N1 (Co-Drivers): 1 C Cimma 29; 2 B Doherty 23; 3 D Watt 13.

Manufacturers Championship: 1 Toyota 522; 2 Volkswagen 256; 3 Nissan 88.